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Saturday, June 4th, 2011, was a good day to beat the drum, and I'm sure I speak for loyal Husker fans everywhere when I say: Happy Birthday, Darin Erstad, and congratulations on Friday's perfect score on your NCAA coaches' certification exam!
It's been a whirlwind week for you, so I thought it'd be nice to celebrate birthday No. 37 with your loyal legion of Husker followers and all the new friends you acquired Thursday - you know, the ones who promise to buy tickets and file into Haymarket Park next spring expecting to watch your first Nebraska baseball team play like you promised they'd play at your introductory news conference.
Because you've already been dubbed the proverbial unconventional hire as a first-time head baseball coach as Nebraska transitions to the Big Ten Conference, I've come up with 10 rock-solid reasons to root for you.
Once fans read this list, it might trigger more reasons. So please share your personal favorite, root for Erstad and help the newest coach in the Big Red family celebrate his new job on a very special day with Jessica, his wife, and their three kids, all of whom probably now rank their dad right up there with 'Lil Red.
Reason #1) I will root for Darin Erstad because your team will play the aggressive "chaos on the base paths" kind of baseball that everyone will want to watch.
You said you want a lot of speed on offense and that you're a "big action" guy. You learned from the best - Mike Sciosia, manager of the Anaheim Angels, your coach for seven years and the man responsible for the "chaos on the base paths" philosophy. The media loved that line Thursday, and the fans will love it even more when they see it live and in red uniforms. It was a great metaphor. The second you said chaos, everyone in the room could see your players flying around the field, pushing the action and taking chances.
Sciosia sees you as the "grinder" you are and as someone who will instill competitiveness into the program like no one else. Your players will see your undying loyalty to them like you gave to Sciosia, and he gave to you. No wonder Joe Torre, one of baseball's all-time best managers, walked straight to your locker after your Angels eliminated his Yankees in an American League playoff series. How many college head baseball coaches can say that? So you've never recruited a player, never filled out a lineup card or never headed to the mound with the bases loaded trying to protect a one-run lead.
So what? Grinders know how to win, how to recruit, how to strategize, how to prepare, and Husker Nation can't wait to see the hustle your teams will show and the chaos they will create. Crank up the organ in the press box. From now on, the Da da da DUT da DUH! - a six-note bugle blaring "Charge" over the P.A. - will mean simply: Let the chaos begin!
Reason #2) I will root for Darin Erstad because you care enough about every challenge to give only your very best, just like the athletic director who hired you.
From everything I've read and researched about you, you only have one gear - all-out. Assuming the speed of the leader determines the rate of the pack, I can only conclude that your players will pick up on your hard-charging style. Like everything else, sometimes there's a price to be paid when you refuse to accept anything less than someone's full-out best. I mean, you required shoulder surgery, had muscle spasms, a concussion, a strained knee, recurring ankle problems and dicey hamstrings when you laid your body on the line. We loved your confidence Thursday in promising to find a "stud recruiter" and a "slam dunk" pitching coach, so you can recruit the best and be the best. Also absolutely loved your line about not letting anyone in the South out-recruit you for the best Northern players in the country, and that doesn't mean you won't go West or South to get what you want either.
Of course, Tom Osborne knows how well you perform under pressure. The way you punted against Miami the night of his first national championship in the Orange Bowl may have been the best punting performance most of us have ever seen. Seven punts for a 41.1-yard average, only two of which were returned (for a minus 6 yards). Osborne saw wisdom in the 90-minute interview for your first head coaching job. That's why, three hours later, he decided not to ask the two coaches he intended to invite to interview in Lincoln and call you with the good news. An AD can do that when he knows you're committed for all the right reasons.
When he interviewed current players and learned how much they trust you, he knew he already had what he was looking for - someone who gives his best to be the best. Whether it's punting in a national championship game, winning a World Series, making an All-Star game, earning a Gold Glove, delivering a ferocious slap shot as an all-state hockey player or beating everyone in the state to the finish line in the hurdles, your vision never changes because you care enough to give every challenge the very best you have.
Reason #3) I will root for Darin Erstad because you're a proven product of Nebraska "mystique" and will recruit and develop athletes just like you.
Nebraska has been in your blood and part of your psyche since that first trip you made to Lincoln in 1991 from Jamestown, North Dakota, and you sat in the North end zone with your dad watching Nebraska play Washington in football as part of your baseball recruiting trip. You were hooked during warm-ups, and you learned to feed off that passion in everything you did. Thank goodness some of your college friends put together that video to show the football staff how you were talented enough to contribute to a national championship team. You learned the thrill of competing in a full stadium and will go down in history as one of Nebraska's all-time best athletes.
You understand what makes Nebraska different and were able to rise up to be part of that unique mystique. You reinforce the brand and know what it stands for. It followed you everywhere you played in 14 years in the bigs - the "Go Big Red" chants in the outfield at Fenway Park in Boston, the organ lady playing the Nebraska fight song when you came to the plate at Comiskey Park in Chicago. And don't forget the anti-Husker chants in right-center field at Yankee Stadium in New York. They'd laugh, but know they were showing you more respect than putting you down. Everyone else you played with in Major League Baseball saw what you experienced and told you how it just wasn't the same for any of them. Yes, you learned the power of red because you saw Nebraska fans everywhere, and for whatever reason, that mystique follows Husker legends wherever they go.
Mystique also means something in recruiting. On his nationally syndicated radio show, Jim Rome talked about Nebraska hiring one of the Angels' all-time favorite players. Peter Gammons, perhaps the most respected baseball writer in America, tweets the news of you becoming head coach. You're proof that mystique is earned, not bestowed. You may be a new head coach requiring on-the-job training, but it would take many multiples of whatever salary you will be paid to buy the rest of the package you bring to the table.
Reason #4) I will root for Darin Erstad because you're a role model and another voice that Bubba Starling can trust as a high-profile Nebraska football/baseball recruit.
Bubba has the whole world in his hands and everyone wearing red seems to be following his every move. Turn on Husker Sports Nightly. Read ESPN.com. Bubba intrique goes beyond statewide interest. There's a national fascination. Where else but Nebraska does something like this happen for a kid who just received his high school diploma? Can you imagine the roar for that very first first-down or that first crack-of-the-bat that clears left-center at Hawks Field?
We know there are no guarantees with this Husker football recruit who's expressed his desire to play both sports at Nebraska, just like you did, Darin. Let's see, you were a No. 1 Major League Baseball draft choice yourself, and you played on a national championship football team. Who's writing this script, anyway?
You know what quality motivated you most to be successful when you were a college athlete - honesty - complete, unfiltered honesty. You said hi to Bubba at the Kansas game and emailed him twice. Now that you're the head coach of the "other" sport he wants to play at Nebraska, you intend to reach out to him, but only if he wants to talk. You call him the elite of the elite, and you'll be keeping track of Monday's MLB draft just like every other Husker fan.
No one will probably know Bubba's final decision until midnight Aug. 15 - the deadline to sign a pro baseball contract or move on as a Husker. You said you'll talk to Bubba just like any other recruit and treat him just like any other recruit, and guess what? That's probably what drew him to Nebraska in the first place - total honesty and a refreshing, straightforward approach that's based on equal treatment and mutual respect.
Reason #5) I will root for Darin Erstad because your desire to Git-R-Done at Nebraska is superseded only by your humility.
You didn't take this opportunity, thinking about yourself, and you made sure people didn't think you had all the answers. You didn't pretend to have the recruiting expertise, the administrative experience or the instant cure for what has kept Nebraska from qualifying for the Big 12 Baseball Tournament the past three years. All you did was promise to hire hungry, ultra-passionate assistant coaches, become a soul mate to all the administrative talent around you and climb onto the fastest learning curve you've ever jumped on in your life. You said you were humbled and honored to be here and to have this opportunity, even if it was faster than you ever imagined. You were sincere, and we believe you.
Reason #6) I will root for Darin Erstad because of all the qualities that you showed at your first press conference, your desire to finish your degree speaks loudest.
What can I say? I have a dear friend who achieved one of the highest positions in corporate America without his college degree. He's smart as a whip, and we never talked about that void because we both knew all that really mattered was his performance and his company's performance. But he wasn't working for the Nebraska Athletic Department, surrounded by student-athletes whose daily mantra is: Even if you're the great Ndamukong Suh, your No. 1 goal on this campus is to get that engineering degree.
Since you spent only three years at Nebraska before you became the highest paid draft choice in major league history at the time, you probably could have kicked that diploma issue under the rug and no one would have known any better. But remember, you are all about unfiltered honesty. You are a man who's been so busy moving back to Lincoln not only to live and to raise your family, but to earn your degree. You made that fact public during Thursday's news conference without a single prod from anyone. So if your bio in a media guide doesn't show your degree or year or school, don't worry, folks. It's coming and coming soon.
Reason #7) I will root for Darin Erstad because you respect everyone, fear no one and want what's at the end of the rainbow - a College World Series championship.
"This is the place and the time," you said Thursday. "Let's do this thing." You didn't stop there. You said: "Yeah, we want to win a national championship." If the assistants you hire have the same fire you do - and they will - and the players catch your collective fire - and they will - watch out, Husker fans. Your new head baseball coach didn't take this job to rebuild. He sees experience in his 2012 lineup. He sees tremendously talented young pitchers, and he's already scheduling trips to reel in another high-caliber recruiting class.
This is no erstwhile task for Mr. Erstad. You see your job as getting everyone in line and getting everyone to play hard, play to win and play for each other. You learned that from the guy who hired you, and you remember being in the locker room and hearing your head football coach remind everyone of how you had prepared hard all week and what you were going to do once the whistle blew. No fanfare. No carnival barking. Just go out there and make it happen - so go win the Big Ten Championship, get to the Regionals, qualify for the Super Regionals and head 50 miles straight down the Interstate to the College World Series.
Reason #8) I will root for Darin Erstad because beneath that hard-nosed exterior and that passionate personality, you know how to laugh and have fun.
The night before your official interview for a dream job you'd almost never really considered until it became available, a good friend found you before heading into the banquet room for Bo Pelini Foundation's annual celebrity dinner at the Cornhusker Marriott. "Hey man," Larry the Cable Guy told you, "I hope you get that head coaching job. You have everything it takes. No one has the passion you do for Nebraska. Those kids will play their hearts out for you." Yes, I saw one of America's funniest guys make you smile even though your mind had to be on overload, wondering what might happen or might not happen. It's nice when one superstar reassures another, and that's an important point since we've spent so much time describing how you were so willing to bang into an outfield fence, slide head first into second base or leap into a box seat to catch a foul ball.
You're so firey and so hard-nosed, no one would know how loving you are as a husband and father or how much you enjoy a good laugh and some old-fashioned fun. I will never forget a couple years ago when you and Larry the Cable Guy, who played baseball at a small college in Florida, took batting practice in the indoor cages at Hawks Championship Center. If someone had brought a video camera that particular afternoon, Larry the Cable Guy would have had a pilot for another TV show. I know you mentioned the importance of consistency at your news conference, but you neglected to mention how important balance is to produce consistency. There's nothing like good, old-fashioned Nebraska work ethic, mixed in with a good, old-fashioned, Nebraska fun, replete with belly laughs. I know how hard you're going to work at this all-consuming new job. Just make sure you call Larry the Cable Guy once in a while. He'll keep you grounded, and you'll still "Git-R-Done!"
Reason #9) I will root for Darin Erstad because you've given everything possible - your heart, mind, body and soul - to the game you respect and the school you love.
This is a short, simple, but important point. Coach Erstad, we know you made millions playing a game you love in Anaheim, Chicago and Houston, but we also know you're still a grinder at heart. Who else would volunteer a year of your life to hunker down and learn everything you can about a game you mastered as a player, but knew very little about in terms of the art and the science of coaching? You moved back to LIncoln a year-and-a-half before your friend, Mike Anderson, offered you the volunteer coaching job. You accepted because you love Nebraska and everything about it. The idea of becoming head coach never even crossed your mind. You just knew your buddy needed to get things back on track, and, unfortunately, it didn't happen. Yes, sometimes, things happen for a reason. It all unfolded so quickly, you found it difficult to process. "This was so far off the radar from what I was thinking could happen, it's hard to even fathom," you said. All you remember is being offered the job, and knowing you had to take it because the opportunity probably would never come again.
Reason #10) I will root for Darin Erstad because after giving so generously to your alma mater in 2004, you now give something even more precious - your time.
At one point, Osborne couldn't frame your candidacy for the job because he didn't know if you had examined everything it would require, especially the travel and the long hours. Nebraska's athletic director says his new head baseball coach showed great wisdom in checking with his wife and mother of his three young children about the opportunity.
Jessica Erstad, in fact, gets a huge assist in this hire because she's the one who cleared your mind and made something so surprising and complicated crystal clear. A Nebraska native and dyed-in-the-wool Husker fan herself, Jessica reminded you of the influence Osborne had on your life. "Look how many people he affected and influenced throughout his life," she told you. "You're in the same position to do that."
"That's pretty powerful stuff," you said. "To have a passion and a purpose in life and to be able to do it at Nebraska ... I just can't imagine a better place. If it had been anywhere else, I wouldn't have done it. I came here as a boy, and I left a man. I owe almost everything I've accomplished to the system that supported me. Now, it's an honor to help others experience that same thrill - a thrill that only comes around once in a lifetime. I've thought about it a lot. How could I say no to an opportunity like this one?"
Voices from Husker Nation
I commend you for the article about Darin Erstad. In 1971, the year I graduated from Nebraska, I didn't even know the baseball team's record. But I have followed this special man since his days playing for the Los Angeles Angels. As far as I'm concerned, he almost single-handedly willed the team to become World Series Champions in 2002. Yes, there was plenty of other talent but Darin, David Eckstein and Tim Salmon, in my opinion, gave the team its heart. I was fortunate to have been able to attend one game of the Yankee series, and it was the one that the Angels came back from a big deficit to win. That win epitomizes Darin Erstad's whole persona. I can see why Joe Torre went to Darin's locker to congratulate him. That Darin caught the last fly ball in the World Series against San Francisco was picture perfect, too. Winston Churchill once gave a speech and the only words he said were: "Never, never, never give up!" Darin Erstad doesn't, and he won't. Let's just hope we can say the same for the fans. I hope they'll stick with him in the difficult times that ultimately come in an amateur game. Let us all take a lesson from Darin Erstad and never give up on our team or our coach, no matter what, no matter how, no matter when. Carol Edmonds, Downey, California
Thank you for the wonderful article regarding the 10 Reasons you would support Darin Erstad. You put into very eloquent words what many of us in Husker Nation have felt about his appointment as the new coach for Husker baseball. I think it will be a terrific season in 2011-12 and can't wait for it to begin. Diane Wolterman, Lincoln, Nebraska
I just want to add a very good point about why Darin Erstad is the best hire for the head coaching job at Nebraska. Darin isn't doing it for the money. He loves the Huskers, and he bleeds red. He donated $1,000,000.00 to the NU Athletic Department, and he would be least interested in how much he would be making at Nebraska. As Coach Osborne said in the press conference, that's refreshing in this day and age. I've always said that money should not dictate why you accept a job. Passion was the reason Darin accepted this job, and that's the best reason of all to root for him to succeed. Roger Wong, San Diego, California, NU Class of 1988
Thanks for the great list of reasons to root for Darin. Great player and man amd proud that he is back in Husker Red. It also gives me hope that in 20 years after Bo retires and Ndamukong is in the NFL Hall of Fame, he will follow Darin's footsteps and coach the Huskers ... something to hope for in 2031. Ed Snow, Perkiomenville, Pennsylvania
Darin, anyone who watched your press conference has all kinds of reasons to root for you. My favorite was the way you opened your remarks and told how you sat down with Tom Osborne to review the video that your friends put together. Your old coach caught you off guard when he asked you if you wanted to play football for Nebraska, so he had to ask you again if you REALLY wanted to play football for Nebraska. Everyone laughed, and you ended that story with a great punchline when you said, 18 years later, you're sitting in the North Stadium and Tom Osborne asked if you were sure he wanted to be head baseball coach. When you said "yes" this time, he didn't have to repeat the question. Your comment that winning a College World Series championship would be a nice way to finish that story said it all, and your willingness to go out on a limb and say something like that is, was and always will be my favorite reason to root for you. You and Cory Schlesinger came out nowhere to become the unsung heroes of that national championship win in Miami, and you can come out college baseball's woodwork to do the same thing in Omaha. I know it won't happen overnight, but I would never bet against a guy with your desire and DNA. Anyone who hits .339 in 29 postseason major league baseball games (and .300 in seven World Series games) comes to work every day carrying a lunchpail and his gameface. Good luck, Darin, and please continue to recruit the West Coast. California guys would love to play for someone like you, especially when they see how Nebraska carried you all the way to a world championship and all-star status. Go Big Red! Ri Edwards, Yuba City, California
I enjoyed reading this column, and I enjoyed reading a story in the Omaha World-Herald quoting Chicago White Sox Manager Ozzie Guillen, who coached Erstad for one season in 2007 and described Nebraska's new head coach as "hard-nosed" and "old school". "Whoever learns from him will learn the game the way it's supposed to be played," Guillen said of Erstad. To me, with Erstad now onboard, every kid who dreams big should give Nebraska baseball a serious look, especially when Erstad promised in his press conference that he will go anywhere and play anyone at anytime. Sounds to me like a certain baseball program has the same confidence as a certain football program. Tom Osborne respected everyone, but feared no one, and I am rooting for Erstad because he has that same philosophy. If you don't have that hard-nosed attitude, you can never reach the top. Here's hoping Ozzie sends some Chicago kids straight to Nebraska, so the Big Ten gets some love at the same time we do. Steve Christensen, Omaha, Nebraska
I am so glad that Tom Osborne found a way for me to go back in time and honor Darin Erstad in my own way. I've watched this YouTube video (on Osborne's first national championship) dozens of times, and after reading your column, the thought hit me that Darin Erstad is never mentioned in this video. And he would be the last to complain because he knows that all sports are team sports, and every star is no more important than the guy starting right next to him. Cory Schlesinger would not have been the star of this video without the guys who opened the holes for his two fourth-quarter touchdowns. Looking back, you can say no one would been the star that night if Erstad had not punted so brilliantly every time that he was asked to do so. Erstad mentioned how much failure there is in baseball, and I believe he will develop the best mindset possible for Nebraska to turn that failure into success. That's my favorite reason for rooting for Darin Erstad, and, by the way, Happy Belated Birthday, Darin, from a fan who has always known what you've meant to Nebraska. Jerry Williams, Lincoln, Nebraska
Great article on the North Dakota Athlete of the Year in 1992. I just want to point out that Jamestown had no baseball team when Darin was in high school, so he made his mark in American Legion competition. In his last summer before heading to Nebraska, he hit .492 with 18 homeruns and 86 RBI. He was also 10-2 with a 2.18 ERA as a pitcher that summer. Darin said he will hire a pitching coach at Nebraska, but he has the expertise to help every pitcher on his staff. He did, after all, carry a .282 career batting average in 14 years in the pros. I also think fans might be interested to know that Darin, like most North Dakotans, grew up a Minnesota Twins' fan, but the local radio station in Jamestown carried the Angels' broadcasts almost every year he played in Anaheim. They followed him because he was North Dakota's version of Bubba Starling. It would be truly amazing if Darin gets the chance to coach Bubba and mold him into the kind of player and man he became. Scott Johnson, Billings, Montana
You had me at "Root" for Darin Erstad's success. As soon as it became official that Nebraska's head baseball job was open, I immediately thought: "Hire Darin Erstad!" I didn't know as much about him as I do now, but I knew that he had a desire and passion for baseball. It was amazing watching him play in the big leagues, and I was so excited for him the year he won the World Series. It will be a joy to watch him be the head coach at Nebraska, and I once again look forward to heading down to Lincoln to catch a college baseball game. I can't wait for this next season in sports with so many big and exciting things happening - from Nebraska football's first game as a member of the Big Ten to Darin Erstad's first game as a head coach. I've never been more excited for the coming of a school year than I am now. Go Big Red!! Erik Sears, Bellevue, Nebraska
Congrats on becoming the new head coach. I have followed you in your baseball career, and I will root for you because you are a distant cousin of mine. Paul Anderson, La Crosse, Wisconsin
Editor's note: Anderson informs Huskers.com of something perhaps Erstad isn't even aware of. According to Anderson, Darin's great grandfather, Kristian Hansen Erstad, was born Oct. 4, 1862, on a farm called "Erstad" in Vest Torpa, Norway, and immigrated to America in 1882 to Kindred, North Dakota. Therefore, Nebraska's new head baseball coach is his 7th cousin, three times removed. "This is a bit far removed but nevertheless a connection," Anderson said in an email. "I belong to a group called LandindsLag.org, and this is where I made connections to Darin's family via our genealogist. His ancestors are from the same area as mine in Torpa, Nordre Land, Oppland County, Norway. He is related to a lot of members of this organization here in America. It has been in existence since 1910, and once this news spreads, he will have many more fans with good reasons to root for the newest head baseball coach in the Big Ten Conference."